15 September – Keepers Bridge

It was a perfect Autumn morning. Blue sky, a cool wind and fluffy white clouds. I loaded my tackle into the Defender, stopped for diesel and essential supplies before heading towards Petworth. It was a lovely drive with only occasional knocks and bangs from the suspension and a slightly bent trackrod.

Lunch beside the lake at Little Bognor was peaceful, the trout were feeding and the Beech trees were starting to show signs of the shorter days. I was spoilt for choice about where to fish. I felt drawn to Luffs which looked tranquil but I would not be able to release any fish. I had conquered Little Bognor and needed a change. The river was calling. Again.

I saw the big fish below the Fish Pass but I think it saw me first. It buried itself deep in a rotting clump of streamer weed and wouldn’t come out. I stood on the bridge at Rotherbridge, the river looked great but there were no signs of Trout. I visited Taylors Bridge and decided to leave it to another member. I tackled up at Keepers Bridge and chose the Hardy Duchess. The short Cortland 444 would be ideal around the bushes below the bridge. The wind was strong and the extra weight in the tip, over the Rio, would help on most of the pools.

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I started just below the bridge with a heavily weighted black and silver spider. Within fifteen minutes a fish rose up behind the fly and gulped it down. I lifted the fly back out of it’s mouth. Not a good start but I was confident that I would have other opportunities. The plan was to walk to the New Riffle and fish the pools on the way back when the sun was lower. The pool on the bend with the big Alder tree was a distraction, I couldn’t walk past without a look under the branches. As I got to the bend in the river a fish swirled below the tree.

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I looked over the edge of the bank and saw a fish close to the tree roots. It was a couple of feet down, just a shadow. I chose a dry sedge which had been successful two days earlier. It was difficult to get the fly above the fish, the wind kept blowing it to my right. Eventually the fish rose, inspected the fly and took. It went on a reel screeching run upstream through the trailing branches but I was in control and encouraged it back downstream well below the bush. While landing and returning the fish, which was about a pound and a half, I saw another fish under the bush. I marked it for my return journey.

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I walked down to the tree tunnel and heard a fish rise. I normally ignore any fish along that stretch because the trees are so dense. A lot of the brambles and balsam had withered and I could see a good fish in midstream. I thought I would have a go. The fish was deep so I tied on a weighted silver and black spider. The fish swirled around the fly first cast and grabbed the fly on the second. The Trout sprinted upstream and across to the far bank. Luckily the bank stopped it going further. The thick wire hook was secure and knowing I couldn’t move along the bank, I pressured the fish. The telescopic handled net was just long enough to secure the fish at the second attempt. It was about two pounds and recovered quickly.

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The New Riffle was not how I remembered. The water was shallow and there were clumps of streamer weed across most of it. I tried the big pool with the sandy cattle drink and the bend above it but couldn’t find a Trout. I went back to the first bush and saw a fish under the trailing branches. The wind was very strong, it was difficult to push the fly out. Ironically that worked in my favour. I cast and the wind blew the leader into the bush. The sedge was left dangling in the water, the leader and tippet were hanging in the branches. The wind blew the branches which animated the fly, it looked very lifelike. The Trout inspected the fly very carefully but was not convinced. I twitched the fly causing micro vibrations on the surface. The fish quickly returned and checked the fly but would not take. I swapped to a nymph and repeated the trick for about twenty minutes but the fish was not interested. I swapped to a spider and had a swirl in midstream first cast but nothing after that. The Trout are very well educated.

The wind and sun were tiring and I was dehydrated. It had been great fun trying out minor tactics, usually reserved for Carp fishing, even if the trick hadn’t quite worked. I will try again when conditions are suitable.

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13 September – Perryfields

It was an early start, I arrived at Great Springs at exactly 9:00am as planned. The night had been cold and there had been a frost, the first of the Autumn. Mist was rising from the lakes and several fish were swirling. They had been stocked the day before, it was nice to see life in the lakes after such a punishing Summer when the Trout were wiped out.

I had breakfast and wandered around the lakes leaving a trail of green footprints in the white grass. The sky was clear blue and as the sun moved above the trees, the air temperature quickly rose. There was a big cloud of midges under the trees and by next week the Trout will be taking buzzers.

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As I drove away from Great Springs the telephone cables were lined with hundreds of House Martins warming themselves in the sun. They poured away, left and right, across the fields as I drove past, reforming on the wires after I had moved on. There were several Red Kite on the stubble at Stag Park, searching for leather jackets. They looked like tall, scrawny chicken at a distance and were too hungry to fly away as I rumbled along the estate road. The massive fields at Little Bognor had been rolled and harrowed, it looked like a desert landscape.

I planned to fish upstream from Keepers Bridge, mainly around Perryfields, which had been very productive for me. Most members don’t venture up there because it is a long walk and it is difficult to access the river. I had developed a series of heavy flies so that I could explore the deep pools more efficiently. They were based on the Copper Nymph but I had exaggerated every aspect. The size 10 heavy hook and thick wire ribbing would send the fly straight to the bottom of most pools.

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I had a few casts in the First Pool, walked on and had a fish follow the fly twice in the Sandy Pool. That was encouraging. I walked slowly up to the Old Riffle, pausing occasionally to look and listen for Trout rising. I watched the water above the riffle for a few minutes and a fish revealed itself. I tried the copper version, then silver and red. The silver fly attracted most attention but the fish, more than one, sheered away at the last moment. They were educated Trout, not fooled by such an obvious deceit.

I found a good fish rising upstream of the Cow Drink and dropped the silver version around a branch, close to the ripples. A few casts later the fish took the fly and fought very hard. I bullied it away from snags, confident that the heavy hook would hold. It swam away quickly from the landing net.

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As I walked towards the bridge I saw a fish rise below the Four Alders and wondered if it was the fish I failed to catch a few weeks ago, it was in the same position. I crossed the bridge and walked along the tree line. I peeped from behind one of the four tree trunks but the fish was not where I expected. I eventually saw it in midstream below a clump of dying streamer weed. It was about a foot below the surface and holding position in the main current. It was just a pale shadow, not the fish I had seen before which was very dark. The cast was impossible. The Alder branches were low, the dead bankside plants were high and the river was narrowed by a bush on the opposite bank. It was a challenge. After a number of failed attempts, tangles and curses I managed to get a parachute Hares Ear in the water. The fish rose, inspected the fly and sunk back to its holding position. I tried an Adams and a Black Gnat with the same result. Only one in four casts actually resulted in a successful drift and I was running out of patience. I tied on a sedge pattern, a bit like a Walker’s Sedge only smaller, which landed perfectly first attempt. The fish rose, took the fly and bolted off downstream around the bend. The fly pulled out. I had to smile, it was a very well educated fish that deserved to get away.

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While I had been sitting under the Four Alders plotting the Trout’s downfall, I’d heard another fish rising upstream. I walked back towards the barn and found a fish rising opposite the stile, under a tree branch close to the far bank. There was a line of thick bushes on my side so I re-crossed the bridge and sat on the wet grass to watch the fish. It had moved into midstream a couple of yards below another branch trailing in the water. I tried casting both sides of the branch but the fish would not move upstream for the fly. I thought a cast well past the branch, upstream of the trailing twigs might work. I launched a long cast, the leader drifted onto the branch and the fly swung across the current. To my surprise the fish swirled and took the fly. I hurried the fish through the branches and into clear water. For once everything had gone to plan.

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I returned to the pool above the riffle and saw a fish rise between two clumps of rushes near the far bank. I put the sedge fly down in the gap and the fish immediately swirled but refused. It rose and refused on three more occasions. The fly was tatty so I changed it for a fresh one, the fish rose and took the fly in a big gulp but I lifted too soon. A fish splashed a few yards upstream. I crept behind some weeds and put the fly over the Trout which was not at all fussy and took with a bang. After landing and releasing the fish I crept back to the fussy fish. I flicked the line into the water at my feet and as I was lifting off to cast across the river, a fish rose to the fly with a big splash and disappeared towards the lip of the riffle scared but not hooked. I was tired from walking and my nerves were shattered from an evening full of elation and disappointment. It was a good time to leave the river. It had been an exceptionally good day.

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10 September – Little Bognor

I fancied a relaxing day beside a lake, walking miles in the early Autumn sun would be too much after a tiring weekend. I visited Little Bognor in the morning and it looked good, there were lots of fish rising on the lower lake. By the time I had visited the other lakes and river Beats, collated the catch returns and had lunch, it was 2:30pm. The south westerly wind had an edge. It had blown all the dust and leaf debris to the shallow end of the lake. Fish were rising everywhere, picking off emerging buzzers where the surface was clean and also among the floating Beech leaves.

I would be fishing at close range and therefore chose the Bob Southwell cane rod. It’s slow action is great for flicking out flies under the trees and roll casting. The ten feet of tempered cane helps me reach over the ferns and avoid most of the snaggy twigs in the margins. The weight of the rod is not an issue as I spend most of the time watching and waiting for the Trout to come within range.

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I started behind the ferns, sitting on the warm crunchy Beech mast. A constant rain of acorns and Beech leaves dropped into the lake and I quickly learnt to ignore the splashes. A sizeable branch crashed to the ground close on my left. Fish were cruising past just under the surface. I tied on a small black dry fly with a white hackle. A Trout ignored it but then turned, rose quickly and grabbed the fly. I didn’t allow for the momentum of the heavy rod as I lifted into the fish and it escaped.

Normally, after losing a fish, I move further up the bank. However, another fish appeared. It took a fly off the surface and moved away, unimpressed by my imitation. Trout wandered into range every few minutes but as usual, the tippet was putting them off. I changed to a black buzzer with a sparse white hackle so that it would sink slowly. At first it floated but the fly became waterlogged and hung about a foot below the surface. I twitched it occasionally and as it neared the bank, there was a swirl and a good fish was on. It ran under the trees and I lowered the rod to keep the line out of the branches. It moved into the middle of the lake, then into the shallows. I thought it was foul hooked. After a long fight I drew it into the net, it was about 2lbs and fairly hooked in the upper jaw. I nursed it in the landing net and watched it recover. I lowered the rim of the net and the fish escaped, back into the brown stained water.

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I was about to move but once again, a fish swirled so I resumed my seat behind the ferns. I used the same fly and after a few casts the line moved away and I was into another Trout. It was a smaller fish but spirited. When I eventually got it in the landing net I was surprised how small it was. It might have been a wild fish. None of its fins were deformed.

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I moved up the bank and sat on the mossy hump at the top of the stone steps. A Trout was rising under the branches. I flicked the fly out several times but it was ignored. I lengthened the line and stupidly cast the fly into the branches. I tugged the line and a dead branch crashed into the water. I laughed but was annoyed. I walked around the lake and had a few casts in the corner near the old stone quarry.

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A fish rose under the trees and I crept back among the Beeches below Rex’s dead Chestnut tree. I lost a fly in the margins, snagged the back cast, tangled the line in a small Holly tree and generally messed things up. When I managed to get the fly in the lake a Trout grabbed it without any warning. I held the rod low to my left as the fish ran up the lake into the shallows, it must have gone twenty yards. It was a long drawn out fight because it was foul hooked in the dorsal fin. I released the fish and as a party of other fishermen had arrived, decided to leave the lakes and head home. It had been a relaxing afternoon, a nice change from the river.

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8 September – Fish Pass

The road to Petworth was busy with lovely old cars on the way to the Goodwood Revival. For once the Defender was not the slowest vehicle in Sussex. After checking the lakes I drove to Coultershaw and walked across the field to see if the big Chub was still in the pool below the Fish Pass. The swans had torn some of the streamer weed away and while I watched, five big Chub cruised along the far bank then circled the pool. They were alert and feeding. The biggest fish was about 5lb. I checked the other Beats and was pleased to see that the muddy colour of the water at Taylors Bridge had gone and the water was clear. I returned to Coultershaw and stood behind a bunch of chest high balsam and dead cow parsley watching the Chub. They seemed to have a patrol route; slowly upstream along the far bank, turn downstream and swim alongside the weed, a couple of circuits of the pool, repeat.

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The group contained five big fish and a couple about two pounds. There were no tiddlers. The odds of a good fish were in my favour if I could induce any of them to take. The first few casts had the fish following but sheering away at the last moment. They inspected the tippet on the surface. I cast upstream a little and had a good take from deep in the middle of the pool. It was one of the smaller fish. It buried itself deep in the weed and was tricky to extract. I netted the fish and released it to rejoin the shoal.

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I remembered the large Trout I had seen jump on my previous visit. It had been close to the far bank of the weir pool where the current starts to slacken and where a bit of driftwood had lodged on a clump of rushes. I started exploring the deep water on my side of the pool with a black and copper spider. A fish rose in the hot spot and I immediately dropped the nymph close to the rise. As I twitched the fly back towards me I saw the line draw tight and lifted the rod but it was too late. The next cast the line moved again, two short pulls. I thought it was a small wild fish. I missed. The take on the third cast was positive and the rod bent alarmingly as the fish dived for the bottom of the pool. The fly line thrummed as the fish bored downstream. I was wary of the overhanging bush near the lip of the fish pass and steered the fish upstream into the middle of the pool. The Trout fought just like the three pounder I had caught above the Old Riffle a few days earlier. Except it felt bigger. It went on a long run upstream and the line fell slack. The size 14 fine wire hook had slightly deformed.

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I walked upstream and fished for a while, running the fly under the overhanging Oak trees. I was just filling in time before my return to the Chub. When I got back to the Chub pool, two swans were tearing at the streamer weed and the fish had moved away. I will return next week.

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6 September – Fish Pass

The BBC weather forecast was for bright sun in the morning and an overcast afternoon. The forecast was correct but the weather was three hours late. The morning was too hot for fishing which was just as well as I spent most of it walking around the lakes and along the river chatting with other members. I found time for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit at Great Springs. There were lots of small Roach and Rudd swimming just under the surface but no signs of any Trout. I shared my seat with a dragon fly, a Red Veined Darter, but there were no other flying insects.

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There were three members at Keepers Bridge and I didn’t want to share a Beat even though a Sea Trout had been caught there the previous day. I drove to the end of the railway line and had a leisurely lunch while listening to the mewing of a Buzzard. The bird sounded close but although I searched the sky all around me, I couldn’t see it. I walked to the bridge and was surprised by the colour of the water. It was very muddy. The water at Coultershaw, Rotherbridge and Keepers Bridge was clear. I thought one of the Sussex cattle had fallen in so I walked to the top of the Beat looking for a swimming cow. I didn’t find anything and returned to the Landrover, hot and annoyed that I couldn’t fish.

I remembered the big Chub I had seen in the fast water below the Fish Pass. I took the rod apart and drove to Coultershaw. Since my first sighting of the Chub I had waited for the nettles and balsam to thin out and for the streamer weed to die back. The time had come to present a fly. I peered over a clump of balsam and the fish was still there, tucked under the far bank. I had been very careful with my approach but the fish became nervous and drifted downstream into deeper water. Several gentle casts later there was a splash and I hooked a Chub. A small one, not the monster. I returned the fish and left the pool for later.

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The bushes around the main weir pool provided good cover and I settled down on the grass covered gabion near the bottom of the pool. I used a long tippet and the heaviest Copper Nymph in the box. As I high-sticked the nymph at the end of a cast a Trout swirled around the fly but didn’t take. A few minutes later a fish rose in the centre of the pool, I extended the fly line, dropped the nymph into the ripples and it was immediately grabbed. As I was landing the fish another trout rose to my right, near the lip of the fish ladder. After I had released my fish, which was about 1lb 4ozs, I covered the other fish but it had gone, probably frightened off by the splashing.

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I fished the pool where the river divides and then returned to the weir pool. A fish rose very close to the far bank but the wind prevented me from reaching it. A big fish jumped clear of the water in midstream, it wasn’t feeding. The clouds were gathering and the blustery wind was making it difficult to cast. I went back downstream to see if the big Chub had relaxed. I missed a take from a small fish, probably another mini Chub. I left the river but the late evening was overcast with a fine misty rain and I probably should have stayed.

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